James Taylor, the pioneer of tea industry in Ceylon was born to Michael & Margaret Taylor at Moss park, Monboddo Estate, Laurancekirk in Kincardineshiro, Scotland in 1835 (two years before Queen Victoria ascended the throne). Setting out from London on October 22, 1851 as a youth of 17 he arrived in Ceylon in 1852 and on arrival was sent to Loolcondera estate in Hewaheta a few miles distance from Kandy.
This was the period coffee had been grown on most plantations in the hill country. As the coffee plantation had been destroyed by a fungus, tea plantation took its place and became the alternative crop to grow.
Taylor first started commercial planting of tea in 19 acres at Loolcondera Estate in 1867. The seed he used had been brought from Assam. As a result of his exhaustive pioneering efforts, in time to come the tea industry took deep roots in the economy of the island with James Taylor being acknowledged “The Father of Ceylon Tea Industry”.
At the beginning, James Taylor made his tea in the bungalow verandah with the leaf being hand-rolled on tables. Clay stove & charcoal fires were used for firing the oxidized leaves. It was a long process of trial and error. His first teas sold locally & were declared delicious.
Always willing to learn, he consulted people with experience, especially several Assam planters. Said Taylor, “with regard to the manufacture of tea, I learned that mainly from others & from reading but it took a lot of experimenting before I was very successful. Mr. Nobel, an Indian tea planter from Cacher, passed through to see a neighboring coffee Estate, and I got him to show me the way to pluck & wither & roll with a little leaf growing on some old tea bushes in my bungalow garden”.
Later however more equipment was introduced into his tea house & the first roller ever made in Ceylon was used in it.
The first shipment of Ceylon tea comprising 23 pounds in two small packs was sent to the London tea auction. The value of the shipment was 58 rupees. In 1873, his first quality teas were sold for a very good price at the London auction.
It was a small step for a man but a giant leap that paved the way for a flourishing trade, leaving behind a rich heritage that is treasured to this day.
James Taylor put his heart & soul into cultivating tea. He was never married, his first & last love being tea.
During the forty years he spent in Sri Lanka, he took a holiday and spent it studying tea in Darjeeling. James Taylor died of dysentery in Sri Lanka in 02nd May 1892 at the age of 57 years, & buried at “Mahaiyawa Cemetery” in Kandy.
Remains of the equipment used by James Taylor have been shifted to Ceylon Tea Museum & are on display at the “James Taylor Section “at the museum premises.